You're growing a tiny human in you — it's no surprise, then, that you'll need your strength. Getting enough protein during pregnancy can make sure you and your baby are nourished inside and out.
Now, we don't mean that you have to up your protein so that you can morph into The Incredible Hulk, but you do need to be aware of how much protein your body needs for a healthy pregnancy and for your baby's growth.
Even breastfeeding mothers need to be aware that their protein needs are higher.
How much protein you need during pregnancy can vary for pregnant people; your protein needs might be different. But, it doesn't mean sacrificing other important food groups.
Consuming too few carbs doesn't benefit anyone — and we would never tell you to sacrifice a food group that brings us so much joy. Hello, chips. Oh! But we should say to always make sure it's a balanced diet.
While whole food protein sources are best, there are times when you're in a pinch and need your protein fast. That's where protein powders come in.
Pregnant people have different protein needs compared to when they're not pregnant so understanding the best ways to get your protein, how many grams of protein to consume per day and knowing what protein does for your body will ensure you have a healthy pregnancy diet.
Why is protein important during pregnancy?
Getting enough protein during pregnancy is important because it:
- Helps your baby's growth
- Repairs new and damaged tissues
- Supports making antibodies for your baby's immune system
- Supports other areas of your baby's development such as making hormones and enzymes.
It contributes to the essential building blocks of your baby's cells and growth.
With so much to think about, we know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.
What are the protein requirements for a pregnant person?
During pregnancy, you'll need to up your protein intake but don't worry, this won't feel like a huge challenge, it just means making sure most of your meals have protein.
It also doesn't mean you need to have a low carbohydrate diet to accommodate for this protein increase — pregnancy isn't that cruel! And, high protein diets don't mean that you only eat chicken breast or chug protein shakes each meal of the day.
Usually, having a varied and healthy diet with protein-rich foods will be sufficient for you to get enough protein in pregnancy.
How many grams of protein per day will be dependent on:
- Body weight
- Exercise levels/energy use
You will need somewhere from 60 to 100 grams of protein, each day. With 60 grams of protein per day, that will make up around 20 to 25 per cent of your daily calorie intake. So it makes up a good chunk of your daily food sources.
That might sound like a lot for your grams of protein per day, but if you have a mixed and healthy diet already, you shouldn't notice a huge difference.
In terms of calories during your pregnancy, it's advised, due to energy expenditure, to eat as you usually would during your first trimester, then, in your second and third trimester up your daily calories by 350 calories and in your third, you should be eating around 450 calories per day.
What protein is best during pregnancy?
Whey protein is one of the most popular for pregnant people; you can take this every day as it is easily digested and has all of the essential amino acids in it.
Whey protein can:
- Increase energy levels
- Reduce stress levels
Whey is taken from the watery part of milk so if your pregnancy diet, or your diet in general, doesn't include animal products, you are still able to get protein in the form of powder from soy protein, taken from the soybean.
It is a good source of protein and fibre and it also includes minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron.
Your protein needs can also be supplemented with other sources of protein such as:
- Pea protein powder
- Hemp protein powder
- Egg protein powder
- Brown rice protein powder
- Milk protein powder
Should you consume protein powders while pregnant?
Protein powders that are high in amino acids are one of the easiest ways to make sure you're getting enough protein into your diet.
Drinking your protein shakes means that you can easily track your protein content per day and, many protein powders are now blended with other nutrients that your baby needs for its brain and cells like vitamin D, vitamin C and calcium.
Getting enough protein during pregnancy can be made very simple with a protein shake.
The Essential Protein by Kin is designed to meet your nutrient needs during and after pregnancy. Enriched with beneficial probiotics that support both mum and baby's development, this protein powder provides 22.4g of bioavailable protein in every serve.
By reaching your recommended protein levels, you're assisting with tissue growth, blood oxygenation and placenta health for the baby, while also helping with your own cell creation, energy levels and blood pressure maintenance.
Many people might use protein drinks as a meal replacement, but it's advisable during pregnancy to make sure you're hitting all of the food groups for a varied and healthy diet. This means treating protein powder as an addition to your daily diet rather than skipping breakfast in favour of a protein drink.
Protein isn't the only thing to make sure you're getting a lot of, so a varied and balanced diet is always best for you and your baby.
Is it safe to drink protein shakes during pregnancy?
Whilst it's safe to drink protein shakes during pregnancy, you need to be aware of what else might be in the protein powder.
Some popular protein powders can contain extra ingredients that you don't want or need, including:
- Excess sugar
- Too much protein
- Added vitamins and minerals (which you might already be getting your prenatal vitamin!)
In fact, getting too much protein isn't always the best, which is why it's important to check the contents of your protein powder. It's also helpful to review what other supplements you're taking during pregnancy so that you're not doubling up.
Be sure to check in with your doctor before adding a new protein source to your diet.
What happens if you don't eat enough protein while pregnant?
Protein carries many essential amino acids which are vital for cell function and metabolism. Minimal protein during pregnancy could cause intrauterine growth restriction, low birth weight and embryonic losses so it's something you want to make sure you're getting enough of.
While protein can be easy to consume through protein-rich foods, adding a source like protein powders can help boost your protein levels and ensure you don't develop a deficiency.
Can pregnant people eat protein bars?
Your growing baby needs over 60 grams of protein per day so when you're on the go, protein bars and protein shakes can be a lifesaver. Much like protein powders that are available today, you just need to check what's in the protein bars for your dietary reference intakes.
If they are filled with lots of sugar or contain too many grams of protein, it might be best to avoid eating these. But, for a quick snack on the go, most protein bars are fine. If you're unsure, check with your doctor to see what protein bars may be suitable for your need.
Best protein-rich foods for pregnancy
There are many ways to get protein during pregnancy. Protein-rich foods include:
- Animal products such as lean meat
- Peanut butter
- Cottage cheese
- Fish (low mercury fish is best)
- Protein powder such as whey protein
- Edamame beans
- Whole grains
- Plant proteins and plant sources such as tofu
As long as you're getting enough protein, it doesn't matter if you're eating plant proteins or animal products. Although, you can get more protein from lean meats in a smaller quantity.
If you eat meat, chicken breast is a great option as an 86g chicken breast contains 26g of protein. Talk about bang for your buck!
For your second and third trimesters, be sure to have plenty of sources of protein on your plate or in your cup. A good rule of thumb is to have one-third of your plate filled with a protein source, which will meet your nutritional needs and help with foetal development.
Protein powders should always be used as supplements rather than meal replacements, but if you're struggling to keep anything down due to pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, try incorporating a protein powder to keep your protein levels up.
Not does Kin's Essential Protein contain all nine essential amino acids, which are crucial for building new life, but it also has a delicious vanilla taste that you'll come to look forward to drinking.
Consuming the recommended amount of protein during pregnancy can feel like a task but a balanced diet and the inclusion of a high-quality protein powder make it all the easier.
If you're unsure about your protein needs, book a visit in with your doctor to chat through your personal nutritional requirements.